Just like OJ Simpson’s 1994 trial for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, Olympian Oscar Pistorius’ trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp has catapulted intimate partner homicide back into the news. Simpson was acquitted of criminal charges, but was found liable for his former wife’s death in a civil suit. Pistorius’ guilt or innocence remains an unanswered question.
While the unfortunate truth is that husbands and boyfriends kill their partners with disturbing frequency, these cases are the ones that we watch with rapt attention to every trial detail. Our culture is obsessed with falls from grace, especially when it involves a fabled sports hero and his beautiful partner.
Regardless, the problem of a partner killing a loved one is real. And while the overall rate of homicide has declined, the proportion of female homicide victims that are killed by their intimate partners remains stubbornly high.
Women account for almost two-thirds (64 percent) of victims of intimate partner homicide. Among all murder victims, women are six times more likely than men to be killed by a current or former intimate partner.
In the time since Simpson’s trial, intimate partner homicide has increased for female victims, reversing a long trend of decline. Between 1980 and 1995, intimate partner homicide of females declined from 43 percent of female homicide victims to 38 percent. By 2008, the proportion had increased to 45 percent.
In contrast, intimate partner homicide of males declined during that entire period—from 10 percent of male homicide victims to 5 percent.
Adding to the tragic loss of one person, intimate partner violence homicide incidents often include other victims. In fact, in intimate partner violence-related homicides between 2003 and 2009, 80 percent of victims were the intimate partner being targeted; the other 20 percent who perished at the same time were friends, family members, current partners, police officers, and others. (You may recall that Ronald Goldman died alongside Nicole Brown Simpson.)
Intimate partner homicide feels like an intractable problem, but efforts have been underway to address it for years. And during the National Institute of Justice’s last funding cycle, the organization awarded an evaluation of the Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Demonstration to learn how well domestic violence homicide reduction and prevention efforts work in a selected group of communities. These efforts focus on identifying victims who are at highest risk for intimate partner homicide and linking them to services, while at the same time implementing better measures to monitor high-risk offenders. The ultimate goal is to find ways to prevent this type of homicide.
For now, the public’s focus on this issue is highlighted when big news stories hit the headlines. But, while the National Institute of Justice project is just lifting off—which means the findings are years away—some of us are anxiously awaiting that news.